Roundups Media

Global Roundup: Rape Threat Relativity in South Sudan; Women Divorce Proudly in Nepal

Jessica Mack

Weekly global roundup: Nepali women learn about their right to divorce and increasingly do so; Argentina's new Gender Identity Law first in the world; Tanzania's President petitioned over contraception access; relativity in rape threats for women in South Sudan.

Nepal: More Divorce Means More Women Exercising Their Rights

Global Press Institute (GPI) reports on the complex evolution of Nepal’s divorce law over recent decades. An increased awareness of the law as it has changed, has compelled exponential number of women to seek divorces, they report. The number of cases filed in 2005 to 2006 was 640; from 2010 to 2011, there were 1,317 cases filed. Divorce was first legalized in Nepal in 1963, with the law was updated in 2002 to include additional grounds for divorce and implementing protective measures for women’s property ownership following divorce. GPI finds that it is easier for women to legally file for divorce than men, due to a difference in proceedings, yet not easier socially. Stigma around divorced women and single motherhood persist, and a 2011 governmental report found that property rights are rarely granted to women following divorce. Nonetheless, advocates have continued to push for expanded rights of women – for instance, a civil code bill introduced in 2011 makes marital rape grounds for divorce – while local NGOs continue to educate women broadly about their rights so that they are empowered and equipped to exercise them fully. Via Global Press Institute.

Argentina: Gender Identity Law Makes History

Last week, Argentina’s Congress approved – by a 55 to 0 margin – a Gender Identity Law that no longer requires trans individuals to go to court to legally re-assign their gender, and obligates health insurances companies from covering sex re-assignment surgery or hormone therapy on-demand. It’s a major breakthrough for the world on trans rights, but also for Latin America, a region traditionally known for macho attitudes. Argentina legalized same-sex marriage in 2010 under President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner. Though they are distinct, queer rights and reproductive rights often go hand in hand, or rather neck in neck, as litmus tests of a society’s ability to uphold human rights principles. While it’s amazing news, it’s notable that abortion is still quite restricted in Argentina. It would be great if the new Gender Identity Law would also support women, who want to identify as women, in exercising their sexual rights free from restriction. Moreover, while President Obama made a splash last week by coming out in support of same sex marriage in the US, women’s reproductive rights in the country continue to be whittled down by oppressive policies. Via Foreign Policy.

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Tanzania: Step it Up on Contraception Access

Several Members of Parliament (MPs), part of the Parliamentary Family Planning Club (sounds like an awesome club), have petitioned Tanzania’s President to specifically include a budget line for contraceptive supplies in the country’s five-year development plan. Not including specific and well-funded efforts to address access to contraception will undermine the government’s broader efforts to reduce maternal mortality, the petition says. This shouldn’t be a tough sell to President Kikwete, who is an internationally recognized champion on women’s health issues and sits on an elite advisory board for a major United Nations effort to improve women’s and children’s health. Increasingly, a specific focus on contraception access and supplies is seen as entirely critical to making any headway in reducing maternal, infant, and child deaths. It’s unfortunate that the case still needs to be made that ensuring adequate contraceptive supplies, and unfettered access to that supplies, is a major step in reducing maternal deaths and injuries, and importantly bestows the agency upon women that they seek to begin with – the control their own fertility and bodies. Via All Africa.

South Sudan: Less Rape in Refugee Camps Still “Safer” for Women

Working for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) on the ground in South Sudan, women’s protection specialist Elizabeth Pender writes about the experience for women at the Yida refugee camp. The camp is home to 30,000 people, many of them women and children. New additions have fled outrageous sexual violence and threats in the Nuba Mountains, making those they almost certainly face within camps pale in comparison. It’s a “grim illustration of the conditions women and girls face at Yida camp that a place where they risk being raped every time they go to the market or beaten by their husbands every time they go home, is safe compared to where they came from,” Pender writes. The reports Pender and others are hearing are every bit as horrific, but not all together surprising: women being “taken” by military men as wives for indefinite amounts of time and brutal rapes committed in front of family members. Protection of women and girls is a major issue in the camps. Five hundred girls arrived from a boarding school without family members or teachers in tow to help guard against predators, and their mobility is paralyzed by the constant threat of rape. One solution has been to create an all-girls compound for safety, but the reality, writes Pender, has been, “overcrowding, not enough food, no bathing area, one latrine for every 100 girls, no gate and no guards.” As fighting persists along the South Sudan border, the issue of sexual violence and women’s rights is quickly becoming the central issue – if it was not already. Via Global Post.

Roundups Media

Global Roundup: Maternal Health in Haiti Remains Dire; Girls Overtake Boys in Bangladeshi Schools

Jessica Mack

Weekly global roundup: Girls overtake boys in Bangladeshi primary schools; Philippines Lawmakers push to get the RH Bill passed; Women are in labor and still doing hard labor in Haiti; Training for sex workers in Rwanda provides options.

Bangladesh: Girls Get Schooled

Inter Press Service reports that countrywide collaborative efforts to get and keep girls in school in Bangladesh have been largely successful. Recent annual estimates show that girls have overtaken boys in primary school enrollment for the second year in a row. Coordinated efforts of the government and local and international non-profit organizations have helped create a veritable net, catching girls who have dropped out, are on the verge of dropping out, or are residing in rural areas without access to education. Since 2000, the government has put in place gender quotas in hiring women in education. Currently, 90 percent of primary school teachers are female and 95 percent of school management committees are women-led, and the retention rate for young girls increased dramatically. In addition, small stipends to cover exam fees, books, and uniforms have helped tremendously. It’s an important picture of success that demonstrates commitment from every sector. Via Inter Press Service.

Philippines: RH Bill Getting Close!?

The Reproductive Health (RH) Bill now is in its umpteenth version yet still sitting in the Philippines Congress, could soon see the light of day. Lawmakers and citizens are turning the screws to get it passed, as health and rights situations are quickly turning dire in the country. Natural family planning has been the official policy for the country, whose more than 90 million inhabitants live among the archipelago of 7,100 islands. The Roman Catholic Church retains significant political power, and has continuously objected to the RH Bill’s stance on modern contraception – that is, that it would support comprehensive sex education and access to these services. As the Church has continued to stand in the way of the wellbeing of individuals, the situation has gone beyond any matter of religious freedom and erred into religious oppression, coupled with cruel and unusual punishment. As one policymaker lamented:

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Teenagers don’t know that they can get pregnant or get someone pregnant by having sex. It may sound funny and pathetic, but this is really true, especially in the depressed areas.

Or, as one Fillipina advocate recently put it, “condoms are a matter of life and death in the Philippines.” Abortion is also highly restricted in the country, and unsafe abortion persists as a serious public health and rights problem. Via Manila Standard Today.

Haiti: Hard Life for Pregnant Women

Just over two years since a 7.0 earthquake devastated Haiti, sexual assault survivors and pregnant and delivering women (arguably any woman at all) face a chronic lack of support and services. Global Press Institute reports that most pregnant women work up until they give birth, increasing the likelihood that they’ll have complications during labor, while limited access to emergency care remains a critical prolblem. Admittedly, this isn’t news since most women in developing countries work up until the minute they give birth, and then directly afterward because their families depend on their income.

Unfortunately, working and birthing women in Haiti may not have the time or access to prenatal care, may be likelier to experience fatal complications during labor, and will have a greater risk of fatality in the case of complications (than women in developed nations). Maternal health care in the country remains spotty and still unaffordable for many, and home births remain challenging due to a lack of skilled care. As UNFPA has pointed out, even before a devastating earthquake, Haiti’s health system was in relative shambles, with women falling through the cracks left and right. This latest report is to confirm that not much has changed. This is significant in context of evaluating the progress that Haiti has made since the 2010 quake: the health and wellbeing of women are a crucial litmus test for the health of a society overall, so right now things aren’t looking good. Via Global Press Institute.

Rwanda: Sex Workers “Pledge” to Abandon Street Walking

A five-day training workshop on reproductive health, sponsored by Population Services International (PSI) in central Rwanda, armed sex workers with education about sexual risks, access to services, and potential opportunities for alternate income, should they be interested. This is important, as sex workers must have free and easy access to sexual and reproductive health information and services to keep themselves safe. More so, they should be protected from stigma that may impede this access. To that point, The New Times paraphrases that some participants “said they are ashamed with illicit activity, vowing to quit the job if they found any other income generating activity.” Not sure they used those words exactly, but the reporting demonstrates just how stigmatized this work is. One participant was quoted: “I was living a complicated life. I hardly found money to survive, and decided to get into this job instead of dying of hunger, I had no other choice. But if I can find any other activity which can help me to survive, I will quit the streets immediately.” Providing a range of options to women to achieve financial independence is key, but for some women, sex work really may be the most viable option for them at the time, and that choice should be respected. Interestingly, the women were urged to first form cooperatives, and then “seek assistance” elsewhere, though it isn’t clear if this would be predicated on leaving the sex work industry. Via All Africa.

Roundups Media

Global Roundup: Indian Muslim Women Fight for Marriage Laws; Forced Sterilization in Uzbekistan

Jessica Mack

Weekly global repro roundup: Foreign Policy's "Sex Issue" has hits and misses; Uzbek Government is accused of "sterilization quotas"; women and girls in UK still vulnerable to female genital cutting; Muslim women in India envision a new marriage law.

Global: Foreign Policy’s “Sex Issue” is Both Important and Irksome

Foreign Policy has a special report on women and foreign policy this month, or “The Sex Issue,” as they’ve called it. It features key commentary and insights on key women leaders, ongoing barriers to women’s leadership, and a particular focus on women in the Arab world. A provocative piece by Mona Eltahawy bluntly pointed to the hostility of men and society toward women in the Arab world (“Why Do They Hate Us?”). There were some misses, like “The Most Powerful Women You’ve Never Heard Of” list, which a) included leaders most people have (and should have) heard of and b) included women that FP itself regularly features (Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala!? Helen Clark!?). One winner was the misogyny Mad Libs, which included gems like: The glass ceiling will be broken when… “There is a female U.S. president, a female secretary-general of the United Nations, and a female World Bank president at the same time.” —Mimoza Kusari-Lila. While the report is a refreshing departure from the male-dominated stodge of FP, why must it lean so far in the direction of funny, provocative, and sexy? Is it that we assume “women in foreign policy” won’t be taken seriously, so we treat it with irreverence from the start? It’s not clear that there was all that much thought behind the assembly of the report, but it’s still a win that FP would highlight such key components of what’s a critical and growing issue: the role that women play in shaping and leading our world. Contrary to popular belief, feminists do have a sense of humor but we also like intelligent humor. That is, the accompanying photo to the piece, “The FP Survey: Women in Politics,” of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton winking is a bit of a fail. Via Foreign Policy.

Uzbekistan: Forced Sterilizations Depict Cruel Disregard of Women’s Bodies and Rights

The Guardian reports on a BBC investigation has uncovered evidence of clandestine and forced sterilization in Uzbekistan. Because of the tense political situation in Uzbekistan, where dissent is not tolerated (the Human Rights Watch office there was shut down last year), all interviewees were anonymous. One gynecologist reported he was pressured to meet a monthly “sterilization quota” of four women. Coerced sterilization can be about a lot of things, but in Uzbekistan, as one surgeon explained, it seems to be a manipulation of women’s bodies and rights for the sake of broader national progress on health indicators: “It’s a simple formula – fewer women give birth, fewer of them die.” In response to the investigation, the Uzbek Government says the allegations “have nothing to do with reality,” but it sadly we know all too well the reality that most women face. In societies where freedom and rights are not supported, it is often women’s rights – and their bodies – that suffer most. Via The Guardian.

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India: Muslim Women Want Marriage Reform

In an article on the struggles of Indian Muslim women navigating marriage and divorce, the New York Times reports on the gaps in rights that exist under a plural legal system. The Indian constitution grants women and men equal rights, but for many Muslim men and women, Islamic law trumps that. Under some interpretations, a man’s declaration of “I divorce you” three times is equivalent to a binding split, and the woman has almost no legal rights of her own. To bridge that gap in rights, Muslim women’s advocates in the country have been pushing for a codification of the Indian legal system within the framework of the Koran itself, which they say does not dictate patriarchy (it is, rather, the conservative interpretations of the Koran that place women in peril at every turn). It’s a push to make marriage more about legality and less about culture and religion, all with the hopes of safeguarding women. The issue has also raised the question of who Muslim clerics – who interpret and define the law as it is lived – should actually speak for among the Muslim population (hint, probably not women). Via New York Times.

Britain: Female Genital Mutilation Persists Despite Best Efforts

A new investigative report by the Sunday Times has uncovered the persistence of female genital mutilation in the UK, with reporters Mazher Mahmood and Eleanor Mills claiming they obtained footage of three different providers performing the ritual for various payments, and in secret. The report suggests that 100,000 women in Britain had undergone the procedure in that country, although it’s unclear how these estimates were made. It is estimated that about 22,000 girls in the UK are at risk for  the ritual each year. Because of the clandestine nature of the practice – perhaps more so now as global attention and outrage has grown – it is difficult to discern the magnitude and nature of the issue, especially as it persists in industrialized nations. In 2010, the Guardian did an in-depth report on the persistence of the practice among immigrant and later generation families in the UK, and the “shield” of culture and tradition that enabled impunity for the illegal act. Via Global Post.